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USC graduates sue over flawed US News rankings data

Several University of Southern California graduates are suing their former university, alleging the USC education school promoted “fraudulent rankings” of its online graduate program to attract students.

The three former students filed the lawsuit this week in Los Angeles County Court, alleging USC’s Rossier School of Education and its business partner, 2U, promoted an inaccurate ranking of the school after giving incomplete data to U.S. News & World Report rankings.

The complaint says USC’s Rossier was able to bump their place in the rankings of education schools from No. 38 to No. 10 over the years by giving “cherry-picked” data about student selectivity, including submitting data about in-person courses and then promoting its ranking for those looking at online courses.

The graduates, whose class-action lawsuit was filed Tuesday by the National Student Legal Defense Network and Tycko & Zavareei LLP, are asking the court to reimburse tuition and other costs for themselves and other current and former students enrolled with the education school.

2U, which runs the promotion for the school’s online education programs and gets a cut of tuition revenue, says they “categorically deny the baseless and frivolous allegations.”

“We will defend ourselves vigorously against these unfounded claims,” the company said. 

USC also pushed back on the lawsuit and defended its handling of the issue.

“We disagree with the claims asserted in the lawsuit, which are mostly based on facts that the university already shared with the community. We stand by our handling of this matter and look forward to defending against these claims in court,” the university said in a statement shared with The Hill.

The news was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. 

The complaint shows screenshots of USC’s Rossier advertising the U.S. News rankings on its website over the years to attract students to a school with a hefty price tag.

The scrutiny came to a head earlier this year when an internal investigation run by USC’s outside counsel, law firm Jones Day, found USC’s Rossier gave incomplete data to U.S. News that affected its ranking.

The complaint filed this week says Iola Favell, one of the three graduates suing the private school, put much weight in the school’s standing in the U.S. News ranking. 

Favell “regrets her decision to attend USC Rossier because of the false rankings information. She would not have attended had USC Rossier been ranked in a lower position given the high price tag of the school and/or would not have paid nearly as much,” the complaint states. 

USC’s Rossier pulled out of the rankings in March after officials said a “history of inaccuracies” was found by the university. On Dec. 15, the education school announced they would no longer participate in the rankings in the future. 

The attorneys for the graduates argue the business relationship between USC Rossier and 2U gave more incentive for the school to send in faulty data to U.S. News. 

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“It’s not hard to see the throughline here — USC intentionally falsified data to inflate their U.S. News ranking, and 2U used the false numbers to pad their profits,” Student Defense Litigation Director Eric Rothschild said.

The complaint goes as far to say that the arrangement between the school and 2U “may be illegal,” which 2U rejected in their statement. 

“The Higher Education Act permits the kind of bundled-services agreements discussed in the complaint. That has been the consistent, bipartisan understanding of the Department of Education for three decades, across five presidential administrations,” 2U said.

Tags U.S. News and World Report

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